West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday staged a dharna at Gandhi Murti in Kolkata to protest against the Election Commission’s order barring her from campaigning for 24 hours, reported ANI.
The poll panel had imposed the ban on Monday, accusing the chief minister of violating the Model Code of Conduct with her comments allegedly asking voters to attack central security forces and for appealing to Muslims to vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Banerjee had then announced the dharna to protest against the poll panel’s “undemocratic and unconstitutional decision”.
On Tuesday, Banerjee arrived at Mayo Road, where the Gandhi statue is located, around 11.40 am to start her sit-in, reported NDTV. She staged the protest alone without her Trinamool Congress colleagues.
A barricade was set up to stop media from entering the canopy set up for the sit-in. The chief minister could be seen sitting silently and painting. Banerjee later showed one of her paintings to the media.
Indian Army’s Eastern Command, which has the jurisdiction of the Gandhi Murti area where the protest is being held, said that it has not yet issued a no-objection certificate to the Trinamool Congress to stage the sit-in. The Eastern Command said that the party applied for the no-objection certificate at 9.40 am and it was under process.
Meanwhile, politicians criticised the ban. Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut alleged that the Election Commission’s decision to bar Banerjee from campaigning was done at the behest of the BJP.
“It is a direct attack on democracy and sovereignty of independent institutions of India,” he said in a tweet. “Solidarity with Bengal Tigress.” In March, the Shiv Sena had extended support to Banerjee ahead of the Bengal polls.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin asked the Election Commission to ensure a level playing field for all parties and to maintain impartiality and neutrality. “The faith in our democracy rests on free and fair elections,” he tweeted.
Abhijit Mukherjee, a Congress leader and son of former President Pranab Mukherjee, said that imposing a campaign ban on Banerjee while ignoring the “hate speeches” of BJP leaders was nothing but a “naked display of favouritism” by former Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Malik said the poll panel’s decision was not right. “It is not appropriate to ban a leader like Mamata Banerjee that too from campaigning for her own party,” he told ANI. “The decision appeared to be a politically motivated election. I appeal the EC to withdraw the ban as soon as possible.”
BJP leader Zafar Islam praised the poll panel’s decision and said that it would send a strong message. “People are fed up with Banerjee’s government and want change,” he claimed.
The Election Commission had issued notices to the chief minister on April 7 and April 9, for “openly demanding votes on communal grounds” and for her comments about the central forces.
In its April 7 notice, the poll panel had highlighted the remarks made by Banerjee at a rally in Tarakeshwar in Hooghly district. “I am requesting my minority brothers and sisters with folded hands; don’t divide the minority votes after listening to the devil person who had taken money from the BJP,” she had said. “He passes many communal statements and initiates clashes between the Hindu and the Muslims. He is one of the apostles of the BJP, a BJP comrade. The comrades of CPM [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] and BJP is roaming around with the money given by BJP to divide the minority votes.”
The second notice was related to Banerjee’s rally in Cooch Behar in which she had had allegedly urged people to corner the security forces if they tried to intimidate voters. “If the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] tries to create any trouble, I urge the women in rural areas to gherao them,” she had allegedly said. “Some of you should confine them while others will go to vote… You should repeat it to prevent them from intimidating voters.”
Elections in West Bengal are being held in eight phases. The results will be announced on May 2.